Farmer plows up a runestone

A few years ago, Lennart Larsson was plowing a field on his farm in Hellerö, near Loftahammar, southeastern Sweden, when his tractor collided into a stone. It was large — six and a half feet long, more than three feet wide — and flat, so Larsson figured he’d set it aside as it might prove useful in the future. He move it to the edge of the field and there it remained until days ago. He was building a new staircase for an outbuilding and thought that large flat stone was just the thing for the job. When he raised it with an excavator, for the first time he noticed there were runes carved on the underside.

The Larssons contacted experts at the Västervik Museum who viewed the piece and confirmed it was a rare runestone. Runologist Magnus Källström then examined and translated the carving. The runes read: “Gärdar erected this stone for Sigdjärv, his father, husband of Ögärd.” In the center of the stone is a cross, which coupled with the inscription indicates this was a funerary stone, a memorial monument placed on the family’s property a few kilometers from the village burial ground. Around the text is a zoomorphic figure biting its own tail. The rounded style of the animal carving suggests a date of the first half of the 11th century.

The stone is believed to have fallen where it was originally placed. It is in very good condition, despite centuries of active agricultural use of the land above and around it. This stone is of national significance, and is a particularly important find for the region as the inscription names three individuals from different generations of a prominent family who lived at the site during the Late Iron Age. Previous finds of silver coins and a silver armband made in Gotland in the 11th century are evidence of the family’s wealth. The female name Ögärd has never been seen before, making it of notable interest for linguistic research.

The stone will now be cleaned and conserved. Authorities hope to put it on display in its original location in Hellerö, but it has a crack that threatens its stability which must be secured first. The county administrative board will then decide on its ultimate disposition based on the advice of conservators.